Encinitas, CA---It’s been a while since my funny bone has been tickled but when Ruff Yeager who plays the legendary John Barrymore in Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet”, now being produced by Intrepid Shakespeare through July 19th, leapt on to the stage dressed as Hamlet, surprising actor Andrew Rally (Francis Gercke), the look on Gercke’s face struck that funny bone and now hours after returning home, I still get a chuckle.
Rudnick’s tongue in cheek comedy about an out of work TV star taking on the role of Hamlet for an outdoor summer season in New York’s Central Park, is the basis for this comedy that brings the ultimate Hamlet, John Barrymore back from the dead (“I’m a ghost Andrew, not a special effect.”) to coach the young actor who proclaims that ‘He Hates Hamlet’ in an outburst of frustration.
The whole thing comes about when Felicia Dantine (Gerilyn Brault), a real estate agent, shows Andrew an apartment that actually was John Barrymore’s. Andrew’s virgin girlfriend (a situation alluded to whenever Andrew feels horny) Deirdre (Brooke McCormick Paul) goes gaga over the fact that he will be living in the same rooms that the great Barrymore did and that he will be playing Hamlet as well.
Andrew’s agent, Lillian (Dagmar Krause Fields) remembers when she and Barrymore had a ‘little fling’ in those very same rooms more years ago than she cares to remember, but still manages to find a hair pin she once left there.
The only ones not wanting him to be there are Andrew himself and Andrew’s TV director Gary (Tom Stephenson) who has another sweet TV deal lined up for him back in Los Angeles. But when the dashing Barrymore arrives on the scene, dressed in his full on Hamlet costume, black tights, black velvet tunic, with a wide slashed neck a jeweled belt and fancy slippers (to boot) Andrew’s fate is sealed. (Credit Kristin McReddie for the costumes)
Barrymore, it seems helps most young actors in need of coaching for the challenging role of Hamlet. In order to channel Barrymore, Felicia, who claims to be a ‘spirit guide’ and who talks with her deceased mother on the other side all the time, arranges a séance to call up Barrymore to come back to his apartment one more time and help Andrew out. (A)“You’re… dead”. (B) You know, occasionally I’m not truly certain. Am I dead? Or just incredibly drunk? (A) “You’re dead! You’re dead. What are you doing here?” (B)“Lad--I’m here to help”.
In his notes, Rudnick talks about his own experiences when he was shown ‘the medieval duplex’ that had been occupied by John Barrymore in 1917. He had renovated it into a Gothic retreat which he titled the Alchemist’s Corner. According to the playwright “I Hate Hamlet” celebrates the theatre, in all its artifice and happy dementia. May the Barrymore panache rule all productions”.
Director Christopher Williams has done just that with the casting of the larger than life Ruff Yeager who plays the larger than life Barrymore. Yeager, who has to stand close to, and I’m guessing because every time I talk to him I feel I need a booster chair, at least seven feet tall and is a very imposing figure. Gercke, who plays Andrew is about five feet nine or ten and is slight of build. The two together remind me of the comic book series ‘Mutt and Jeff”. It is more than intimidating and especially when Yeager’s Hamlet challenges Gercke’s Hamlet to a duel. One could only guess what was going through Andrew’s mind.
With a top notch cast in place, Intrepid’s production is up to its usual high standards. Both Yeager and Gercke play well off each other and for the most part all eyes are focused on them but kudos must go to Tom Stephenson’s Gary as the fast talking TV producer who doesn’t get live theatre or Barrymore; he’s just a TV jock.
Dagmar Fields is perfect in the role of Andrew’s agent and Barrymore’s one time lover and Gerilyn Brault is a kick as the real estate agent. Brooke McCormick Paul plays Andrew’s chaste girlfriend Deirdre as a clueless little pup waiting for some thunderstorm to wake her up sexually. The cast is cohesive and fun to watch, especially the two Hamlets’.
Intrepid Shakespeare Company is in rehearsals for their next production, Shakespeare’s “Much To Do About Nothing” in the big theatre space they commonly use at the San Dieguito Performing Arts School. “I Hate Hamlet” is being mounted in a smaller, more intimate black box space, in the round with living room type seating for an intimate atmosphere, which it creates wonderfully. Sean Fanning and Sean Yael Cox designed the cozy Barrymore living room that gives Yeager lots of room to strut his stuff.
This is one show you won’t want to miss, it is designed to tickle your funny bone.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through July 19th
Organization: Intrepid Shakespeare
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 800 Santa Fee Drive Encinitas, CA 92024
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$35.00
Venue: Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, San Dieguito Academy